M.C. NOW - Sara Rubin

Good afternoon. 

Sara Rubin here, three days after I went out to dinner on Friday night, on a patio and under a heat lamp, thinking it might be my last chance to do so for a while. Under the state’s new criteria meant to slow the spread of Covid-19, California is carved up into five new regions. (Monterey County is part of the Bay Area region—I like that the title is vague to include the Monterey Bay and not just San Francisco, although our region does indeed include San Francisco, Alameda, Marin and Santa Cruz counties, along with six others. In a weird twist, San Benito County is part of the San Joaquin Valley region. No one will use this map for geography lessons.) 

Each region is tracked based on ICU capacity, and if any region gets to a point where 15 percent or less of ICU beds are available, new stay-at-home orders take effect for at least three weeks. 

The orders do not apply to Monterey County, at least not yet. In our region, 25.7 percent of existing ICU beds remain available, as of Dec. 6. (That’s better than the statewide figure, 14.2 percent.) In Monterey County, 54.8 percent of ICU beds remain available. 

That’s a slight improvement in availability from two days ago—on Saturday, Dec. 5, Monterey County hit its high for Covid-positive patients in the ICU at one time, 24. Every day now, we see a new record of hospitalized patients, now at 97. When I wrote about this subject a week ago, the record at that time was 85. (As the number of ICU patients decreased, the number of Monterey County residents who have died from Covid-19 increased by two, to 136—a grim reminder of what we’re trying to prevent.)

When it comes to stay-at-home orders, Monterey County Health Officer Edward Moreno has historically gone along with the region as a whole. This time, he’s taking a different approach—instead of joining up with Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Santa Clara and San Francisco counties in voluntarily entering a more restrictive SIP that resembles life as it was in March, Moreno is keeping Monterey County (relatively) open.

That’s good news for businesses that are already hurting and relying on the holiday season. It’s a glimmer of good news that while the picture is dire, it’s actually better in Monterey County than elsewhere. A hyper-local look at our ICU capacity—19 Covid-positive ICU patients and 23 beds available—shows we are a little better off than the region and the state. 

On an even more hyper-local scale, on Tuesday, Dec. 1, Mee Memorial Hospital’s Chief Medical Officer Robert Valladares told the County Board of Supervisors there were no current Covid patients: “It has not hit nearly as hard [here]. We have 25 beds. It has not been worse than it was in early spring. The burden here is still really low.” 

It’s up to us to keep it that way. And so far we are failing at that—as of Sunday, Mee Memorial had three Covid-positive patients. 

The balance of keeping businesses open and people from getting infected with Covid-19 in massive numbers is tragically difficult to strike. We haven’t done a good job of it. But the message from public health professionals has been and remains: Our actions can save lives. Part of my message is that our actions can also save businesses: If we limit our multi-household gatherings, the state won’t have to do it for us. If we abide by mask-wearing rules and minimize non-essential travel, we may be able to avoid a threshold at which the state cracks down and closes in-person sit-down dining and prohibits non-essential travel and hotel stays to all but essential workers or those quarantining from Covid-19. 

-Sara Rubin, editor, sara@mcweekly.com

Sara Rubin loves long public meetings, red pens and reading (on newsprint). She has been editor of the Monterey County Weekly since 2016, and has been on staff since 2010.

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